Mikel Arteta has expressed frustration and disbelief

Mikel Arteta has expressed frustration and disbelief that Arsenal must visit Manchester City for Saturday’s showpiece Premier League fixture a little over 48 hours after getting home from their Champions League tie at Napoli on Wednesday night.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has already made plain his dissatisfaction, calling for the introduction of an independent ethics committee to arbitrate on the fairness of match scheduling. He feels that the television companies ride roughshod over the game’s authorities to dictate kick-off times to suit them, with no regard for the clubs’ requirements. The Premier League can point out that each club signed up to the lucrative television deal.

Arsenal faced Everton at home last Sunday in the 4pm game, drawing 1-1 and they will kick off against City at 12.45pm. They made the flight back from Naples after the tie, which ended in a 2-0 defeat for them, with the players getting to their homes at roughly 4am.
Arteta, though, says that the mood in the squad remains positive and, as they seek to make a statement of title-winning intent at City, he insisted that there could be no excuses related to fatigue.

“The recovery time is very tight,” Arteta says. “I don’t understand why we play Sunday afternoon, Wednesday evening, get back at 4am and then play again on Saturday morning in Manchester. There is nothing we can do – just recover well. It’s a big game and we want to win it.

“The preparation will just be about recovery. It’s not ideal. There is a late warm-down [on Thursday], we try to get our legs back for Friday … travel on Friday and be as well prepared as we can because they will be ready for us. They rested seven or eight players in Munich [against Bayern on Tuesday night].

“I think we have different options [in the squad]. You could see that we changed the team a bit again against Napoli. We have to be ready, no excuses. We know it can be a big statement if we get a good result against City. That’s what we want.”

Wenger joked in his post-match press conference in Naples that he would have to hurry as he and the squad “have to fly directly to Manchester because the game is so early”. The issue has been on his mind and the changes that the City manager Manuel Pellegrini made to his starting line-up against Bayern have also been noted at Arsenal.

City, though, had earned the right to rest players, having already ensured their qualification to the Champions League last 16. Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri, Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo were stood down from the team that drew 1-1 at Southampton last Saturday, and they still beat the defending European champions 3-2.

Wenger, by contrast, fielded a virtual full-strength team against Napoli, as Arsenal had not secured their qualification. They did enough to advance, although the defeat meant that they did so as the group runners-up and, as such, they will now face a more daunting last-16 assignment against Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain.

It felt like an opportunity missed – a draw would have seen them advance as the group winners – and Wenger admitted that his players’ “legs went a bit” in the second half, when they were too passive. In light of the disappointing result against Everton, Arsenal are determined to respond. They still hold a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League, but after City, they face Chelsea at home on Monday week.

“Before the Champions League started, we would have been happy to go through from that group,” Arteta says. “But in the position we were in, we wanted to finish first because we know we will face really difficult opposition in the next round so we are disappointed.
“We can compete with any team in Europe on our day but we are making it tougher on ourselves. If we had finished first, it would have been a different story but we will take it on the chin.

“We are looking at top teams who have won their groups easily so it’s a tough time, although I’m sure that they are not going to be happy to play against us either. It doesn’t matter who we play out of these teams”

Arteta will be suspended for the last 16, first leg after his dismissal against Napoli for two yellow cards. He felt harshly treated, given that he only made two fouls in a game that was littered with them – 32 in total, 16 by each team.

“It was a joke,” Arteta said. “Two fouls in the whole game and two yellow cards, so I’m very disappointed. You miss the next game and you put your team in a difficult position. It was harsh and very unfair.”

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